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I Can't Stop

At work on Friday, the now standard two boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts were in the kitchen, but we also had an added treat: someone had brought in a homemade “inside out” cake. I don’t really know what made it inside out – it seemed to be just a chocolate bundt cake – but the bit I had was tasty. One of my co-workers, though, seemed a bit dismayed to have multiple sweet options.

As he cut a piece of the cake, he said, “The problem is I really like sweet things. I can’t stop eating them.”

I’m quite familiar with this sentiment. I don’t know how many people I’ve heard say they can’t keep a certain food in the house because they’ll just eat it all at once. I also remember being in that place, where I felt like the instant even a tiny bit of sugar crossed my lips – a single M&M, or a fragment of cookie, perhaps – I would lose all control and eat as much as I could get my hands on.

And yet, hearing it on Friday gave me pause, likely because I’ve been learning more about eating disorders, which are so often about control, and that fear of not being able to stop. The more I thought about it, the sadder it made me, to realize how many people can’t imagine a world where it wouldn’t be about control but choice to have just one, or more.

It doesn’t help that our society and culture promote this idea. I well remember the Pringles slogan from when I was younger, “Once you pop you can’t stop,” and the Lays’ ad that claimed, “No one can eat just one.”

Of course it’s in the interests of food companies to encourage people to think they truly can’t stop, because it means the company sells more of their product. But even if it helps their bottom line, it’s doing so much damage, in ways we don’t always see.

For instance, when I remember back to my younger, heavier days, the idea that I couldn’t control what I ate made me hate myself. I was wracked with guilt, constantly beating myself up for my lack of willpower, without quite realizing the ways in which I was being manipulated, first to expect that I couldn’t stop, and then to feel like I was a horrible person because of it.

When I think about how much this has changed for me, I consider what I might say to my younger self, to help her with this struggle. It’s hard, because I was so damaged and set in my ways of thinking and being that I might not have listened. But I could at least try and say, “Imagine that you can stop, that after you’ve had one, you might be satisfied. Imagine, too, that maybe you aren’t satisfied and want another, but that’s how you feel, not how someone else is telling you how to feel. And consider that either option is okay – but mostly to realize that they are options, and it’s about choice, not control.”

Although I can’t actually say that to the younger me, I take some consolation in knowing now that it is true, and in the hope that maybe I can help others understand their own options and choices. I only wish we were not in a culture that makes this so hard to accept.

Note: The Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program can help shift from thoughts of being in control to being in charge. Learn here or at

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